Telecommunications networks and particularly the internet, have changed people’s lives forever. Metcalfe’s Law explains why they have become so powerful: A network’s value increases exponentially with its size — the more people use it, the more their participation enhances it. This is generally a good thing, but not always. Metcalfe’s Law has a dark side when it affects workplace productivity. As the cost of initiating one-to-one and one-to-many interactions drops to zero, the number of interactions increases exponentially. By our estimates, a senior executive who in the 1970s might have received fewer than 1,000 outside phone calls, telexes or telegrams a year now faces a tidal wave of 30,000 e-mails and other electronic communications. Connected enterprises and automated scheduling have driven meeting time through the roof. At one company we analysed as part of an organisation-wide time-management study, employees spent a staggering 300,000 hours a year supporting a single weekly ...

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